Medical marijuana has been approved for the treatment of several chronic and life-threatening illnesses in more than two dozen states. After a contentious debate, New York became one of the jurisdictions that now allow its use. In 2016, the Empire State implemented the plan passed a little more than a year prior. While many saw this change as a welcome addition to healthcare, others were unsure if the bill would have any bearing on their personal lives. Since that time, by all accounts, New Yorkers have looked to medical marijuana (MMJ) as a source of alternative treatment that seemingly works when other methods have failed. Although pain suppression is the number reason medical marijuana is recommended, those who suffer from weight issues are arguably the population that has seen the most significant benefit.
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Weight is one of those areas where patients can never seem to be entirely happy. Individuals who have medical conditions preventing them from gaining weight, as well as those who have conditions that prevent them from shedding pounds, can find help in the same treatment.
Cachexia or Wasting Disease
Cachexia is a disease that has long been misunderstood by the general public. Though many believe that it is a form of starvation, it isn’t. Cachexia is weight loss and deterioration in a physical condition that is associated with various life-altering illnesses including cancer, HIV/AIDs, congestive heart failure, rheumatoid arthritis, tuberculosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis, or Crohn’s disease.
While many of these illnesses can cause cachexia, management of the disorder will vary and depends on the underlying condition, but it is often a multi-target approach. Treatment to build up the patient’s caloric intake, as well as dealing with the primary diagnosis is a must. Standard methods for treatment historically include hypercaloric or intravenous feeding and the administration of appetite-stimulating medications such as growth hormones, testosterone, and progesterone.
While traditional treatment methods are successful, the latest research suggests that cannabinoids found in cannabis are just as beneficial at boosting appetite without adding another pharmaceutical to the already burdensome amount nor as invasive as feeding tubes. Scientists believe that the cannabinoids interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system that is responsible for regulating food intake. Additionally, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) influences the neural networks and convinces the brain that it is hungry.
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In studies, THC has been shown to significantly improve the appetite of patients that have cachexia due to cancer as well as stabilizing the bodyweight of patients with AIDS. Further studies have also suggested that cannabis has an additional benefit of increasing energy and physical activity levels in patients lowering the risk of atrophy and improving mood.
Cachexia is a complex disorder that may have several underlying causes. Although some may believe that the easy answer is to get patients to eat more, however, it’s not as simple as that. These patients are already suffering from some of the worst illnesses known; very few find that increasing the appetite is easy to do. If medical marijuana can help alleviate some of the symptoms, patients and practitioners should be willing to try.
While weight loss isn’t one of the covered diagnoses under New York’s medical marijuana program, several disorders and conditions can lead to undesired weight gain. This weight gain can cause further damage to an already feeble body that is racked with a debilitating or life-threatening disorder.
The issue that people most often associate with undesired weight gain is chronic pain. Individuals who suffer from this can also have difficulties with their mobility causing the desire to exercise to decline. It is common for physicians to advise a patient who has chronic pain not to become sedentary. However, chronic pain can become so overwhelming that patients often find themselves suffering from severe emotional distress, anxiety, and depression that only further hamper their will to exercise.
While many doctors find that prescribing individuals’ potent opioids to combat the pain is useful, they also see the dangers associated with their use. Opioid abuse is well on its way to becoming an epidemic in America, claiming countless lives each year. To combat abuse, New York, like many other states, added opioid use disorder as one of the qualifying conditions for medical marijuana.
Patients that find themselves gaining a large amount of weight due to their chronic or debilitating pain should consider medical marijuana as an alternative to more potent pain relievers. Opioids are not only addictive, but they can be an underlying cause of lethargy and the lack of motivation that would otherwise help individuals maintain an active lifestyle.
Despite the common belief that marijuana gives patients the “munchies,” those who use marijuana as a pain reliever, report that the increase in their level of energy along with the pain-relieving properties balances out any rise in eating habits. Additionally, these patients feel that with marijuana as a treatment option, they feel more like themselves and can exercise more often as well as rejoin any prior activities.
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While many may look at this and say that any weight loss associated with cannabis use is far-fetched, even The American Journal of Medicine published a report that concluded that regular marijuana use was associated with lower levels of fasting insulin and smaller waist circumference. Additionally, the American Journal of Epidemiology found in 2011 that obesity rates are about one-third lower among those who smoked marijuana regularly compared to those who did not smoke at all. Lastly, it is important to note that most individuals who have been diagnosed with chronic illnesses suffer from anxiety and stress. While both conditions are harmful in and of themselves, they are often credited as being the number one cause of obesity.
Reasons to Use Medical Marijuana
There can be any number of reasons why people have severe issues with their weight. Everything from heredity to nutrition or illnesses can affect how thin or how thick we become. Despite the cause, being too lean or obese can be a severe, life-threatening condition even without the addition of another disease. New Yorkers who have been diagnosed with one of the qualifying conditions for medical marijuana and have issues on either end of the weight spectrum are encouraged to contact a licensed provider today. Getting healthy and living a normal life requires a whole-body approach to wellness.
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